Urban Meyer’s time with the Jacksonville Jaguars has officially come to an end. But what a time it was.
From the time Meyer was hired to the night it was reported that Jaguars owner Shad Khan had fired him, the coach displayed a penchant for conjuring embarrassing stories out of thin air, to say nothing of the 2-11 record he accrued in a season the Jaguars were hoping to take a leap.
Here’s our best effort at documenting the events that defined Meyer’s time in Jacksonville.
After days of speculation, Khan hires the former Ohio State coach. The move is a risk. Meyer has no NFL experience to speak of, but Khan is betting on well over a decade of success in the college ranks, where Meyer holds an 187-32 record as a head coach.
Meyer himself had expressed skepticism about making the jump to the NFL, telling Yahoo Sports in 2018 he could never handle having a record like 74-58. Still, much is made about his ability to build a winning culture for a team that finished 1-15 the previous season.
Meyer takes the stage at his new job, with the usual fanfare of a splashy hire tasked to take a team to the next level. Meyer’s health is discussed. His control over the roster is discussed. His protection of an alleged domestic abuser on his Ohio State staff is not.
After a year of working for the Jaguars as director of pro personnel, the Jaguars brain trust taps Trent Baalke as general manager. His previous tenure as a general manager saw the San Francisco 49ers go from 13-3 in his first season to 2-14 the year he was fired.
An announcement of an NFL team’s full coaching staff typically isn’t a big story, as the important positions will be reported well in advance of the announcement. Meyer’s coaching staff becomes a big story due to the presence of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
Doyle had previously held the same position for two decades at Iowa. That tenure ended when several Iowa players alleged he fostered a culture of bullying and racist remarks in the weight room. Meyer tells reporters Doyle had been “vetted thoroughly” and touts his relationship with his former Big Ten rival.
Unfortunately for Meyer, his vouching isn’t enough to stop a torrent of criticism. Doyle submits his resignation 35 hours after his hire was announced.
Meyer spent his first three decades as a coach in the college ranks, where players are recruited with no limits on how many top talents you can accrue. Going from convincing players to go to Jacksonville rather than Ohio State apparently wasn’t fun for Meyer, who calls the process “awful” and says the legal tampering period should be changed.
Despite those troubles, the Jaguars sign cornerback Shaquill Griffin (three years $44.5 million), safety Rayshawn Jenkins (three years, $35 million) and wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. (two years, $14.5 million), plus running back Carlos Hyde (two years, $6 million), who played under Meyer in Columbus, and five more players who have played under Meyer’s assistant coaches.
What was widely expected comes to pass. The Jaguars draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the most hyped quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. Jacksonville’s path forward is clear, with Meyer calling the shots and Lawrence executing them. The team still has 2020 starter Gardner Minshew, however.
Later in the first round, Meyer raises eyebrows by selecting running back Travis Etienne, Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson, with the 25th overall pick. He raises more eyebrows by having Etienne work as a wide receiver at minicamp, and when he admits he actually wanted Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, selected 20th overall. Etienne eventually misses the whole season with a foot injury.
Signing Tim Tebow might have been suggested as a joke when Meyer was hired. It becomes reality in May, when the Jaguars signed the former Florida quarterback to play tight end after trying him out weeks earlier.
Tebow has not played an NFL game in nine years and has not been on an NFL roster in six years, instead trying his hand at minor league baseball while working as a college football commentator for ESPN.
The Jaguars are fined $200,000 and Meyer is personally fined $100,000 after reportedly violating non-contact rules during team OTAs, specifically in 11-on-11 drills between wide receivers and defensive backs.
Meyer didn’t get the star strength and conditioning coach he wanted out of Doyle, but he does get a court summons. The Jaguars hired Doyle so quickly after his fall from grace that Meyer, as well as Baalke, is subpoenaed by a group of Black former Iowa players in a federal discrimination suit.
The dream is dead. Tebow is cut after a single preseason game.
After weeks of splitting snaps at quarterback between Lawrence and Minshew, Meyer announces he will start the No. 1 overall pick. Some wonder if getting more practice for Lawrence would have helped the team considering it would trade away Minshew within a week.
The Jaguars probably weren’t the only team who considered a player’s vaccination status when making roster cuts, but Meyer is the only coach who makes the mistake of saying such a thing out loud. Teams may have been directly incentivized by the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols to prioritize vaccinated players, but actually doing so is a violation of NFL rules.
The NFL Players Association soon announces it has opened an investigation into Meyer.
After going 1-2 in preseason, Meyer’s Jaguars had a strong opportunity to open his tenure with a win against the Houston Texans, a rebuilding team in a trade standoff with Deshaun Watson amid sexual assault allegations against the star quarterback.
The Jaguars lost 37-21.
One game in. This won’t be the last time this sort of thing happens.
The Jaguars follow up a 1-15 season with an 0-2 start, and the whole thing is ugly enough that Meyer feels the need to release a statement urging Jaguars fans to hang in there. Meanwhile, Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio says Meyer told him the NFL is like “facing Alabama every week.”
When a winless NFL team loses on the road, most coaches fly back home with their team and get to work as soon as possible. Urban Meyer is not like most NFL coaches.
Rather than fly back with the Jaguars after a Thursday night loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Meyer sticks around in Ohio and is later caught on video in a bar with a young woman who was not his wife grinding in his lap.
Facing a fresh wave of criticism, Meyer tells reporters he’s apologized to his team and tries to explain how the video came about. As he paints it, Meyer decided to say in Ohio after the game to see his grandchildren and go out to dinner that night.
When he was out, he claims a large group insisted he take pictures with him then tried to coax him on the dance floor. That all sounds innocent enough, until a second video from a different angle shows Meyer’s hands getting a little familiar with the woman’s lower regions.
About a month into Meyer’s first season as an NFL head coach, his team’s owner releases a statement castigating Meyer for his “inexcusable” conduct and saying the coach must earn back the organization’s trust.
Meanwhile, one player is reported as saying Meyer had “zero credibility” in the locker room at the moment, especially after he cancels Monday’s team meeting amid the video’s fallout. Instead, Meyer reportedly apologizes to position groups individually and insists he was “just there dancing,” an approach that leads to raucous laughter among players after the coach left the room.
Yeah, this story just won’t die. He finally addresses his full team to apologize, again, and insists it was always the plan for him to stay in Ohio after the Bengals game, which at this point happened six days ago.
There may be no more rewarding play in football than the QB sneak. Studies typically show the short-yardage play holds a 70 to 90 percent success rate, and it’s an even better play when you have a tall, athletic quarterback, such as the 6-foot-6 Lawrence.
Faced with a fourth-and-inches while trailing in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans, Meyer does not sneak the ball. Instead, he runs Hyde up the middle. For a 3-yard loss.
Now, coaches have made bad calls before, but what makes this decision worse is Meyer claiming after the game that he didn’t use Lawrence because Lawrence was not comfortable with the QB sneak. Lawrence refutes that claim minutes later.
With the Jaguars still winless and struggling on offense, Meyer insists he likes the team’s offensive identity and decides to throw out a goal of 250 passing yards and 250 rushing yards per game. We’re not saying such a rate is impossible, but, well, the most prolific rushing offense is the 2019 Baltimore Ravens, who averaged 206 rushing yards per game. And the Jaguars don’t have Lamar Jackson.
A 20-game losing streak finally comes to an end, with the Jaguars defeating the Dolphins 23-20 in their second home of London on a last-second field goal. His team unfortunately fell 173 rushing yards short of his goal, though.
Even 11 games into Meyer’s NFL career, he is still facing questions about returning to the college ranks.
There were few bright spots on the 1-15 Jaguars last year, but one of them was definitely James Robinson, who went from going undrafted to posting 1,070 rushing yards as a rookie on 4.5 yards per attempt. With Etienne still hurt and Hyde averaging well under four yards per carry, you’d think Robinson would be a focal point of the Jaguars’ offense.
And yet, in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Robinson receives only eight of the Jaguars’ 25 rushing attempts. Meyer declines to say Robinson had been benched after the game, saying such decisions fall on his assistants, but Robinson would later say he felt benched due to a fumble earlier, thus continuing a year-long trend of poor communication.
Benched or not, one person not happy to see Robinson ride the pine is Lawrence, who once again publicly refutes his coach about an on-field matter.
Meyer is apparently unmoved. Robinson would see six rushes his next game.
A simmering situation goes back to full boil thanks to a report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero which documents a meeting in which Meyer was said to have called himself a winner and his assistants losers, then challenged each coach to explain what they’ve won and defend their résumés. It is worth noting that multiple members of his staff have won Super Bowls, and all of them were hired by the supposed winner.
Meyer is also reported to have feuded with veteran wide receiver Marvin Jones, a notoriously easy-going player, and to have indeed made the decision to bench Robinson for Hyde, his old Ohio State player.
Losing 20-0 to the Tennessee Titans with Lawrence throwing four interceptions and Jaguars great Jimmy Smith calling out the wide receivers’ coaching would be a rough enough day. Then Meyer responds to the loss by openly shirking a handshake with former Ohio State assistant Mike Vrabel, denying he had ever feuded with Jones, denying he had called his assistants losers, pledging to immediately fire anyone who leaks to the press, and agreeing with a reporter that the offensive line was not playing to the level it was being paid.
Things are not going great.
Not realizing one of your players didn’t appear in a game might be a mild slip-up for most coaches, but for Meyer it is gasoline on the fire that he was out of touch with his personnel.
Asked about safety Andre Cisco, Meyer responds that Cisco was playing more. Cisco had registered zero defensive snaps the previous game.
Amid all the scrutiny, Khan acknowledges the team’s tribulations, but says he doesn’t want to rush into firing Meyer, explaining it as “You don’t want to be impulsive.”
An ugly incident from training camp comes to light when Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Meyer responded to two missed field goals by kicker Josh Lambo, one of the five most accurate kickers in NFL history, by kicking the player as he prepared another kick.
Here is how the exchange reportedly went down:
Meyer: “Hey dips***, make your f***ing kicks.”
Lambo: “Don’t you ever f***ing kick me again.”
Meyer: “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f*** I want.”
Meyer is no longer the head ball coach.
Three days after saying he doesn’t want to be impulsive, Khan decides to pull the plug 13 games, and several scandals, into Meyer’s NFL career. It is the first time Meyer has been fired in his 34-year coaching career. It is the first time an NFL coach has not finished his first season since Bobby Petrino in 2007. Darrell Bevell takes over as interim head coach.